American Top Team fighter Jorge Santiago will take on Yuki Sasaki on May 18 at World Victory Road's Sengoku II in Tokyo.
These two were supposed to square off in Strikeforce's middleweight tournament last November. Sasaki, however, was pulled from the fight after failing to get medical clearance. Now, Santiago is ready to finish what he never had the chance to start.
MMAWeekly Radio had a chance to speak with Santiago amidst his final preparations for the fight. "I'm so excited," exclaimed Santiago. "I've been training harder than ever. I'm prepared to put on a big show for the Japanese crowd."
Since they were previously scheduled to fight, it wasn't much of a problem to adjust to Sasaki's style. "I studied him before because we were supposed to fight."
While Santiago had mixed results in the UFC, he has rebounded well since then. After finishing Andrei Semenov in Bodog, he submitted the always tough Jeremy Horn in Art of War 3.
Santiago then went on to the Strikeforce middleweight tournament and drew Sasaki, who would have to pull out of the tournament. Instead, he took on Sean Salmon, who he knocked out in just 24 seconds of the first round. In the finals of the tournament, he finished Trevor Prangley in less than a round.
However, since his win in Strikeforce, he hasn't had the chance to come back to the promotion. "I'm still waiting for a chance to go back. I hope I'm going to go back to Strikeforce. For now, I just need to fight here in Sengoku, but I'll be available to fight in the U.S."
An intriguing match up for Santiago in the Strikeforce promotion could be its middleweight champion, Cung Le. Le is undefeated and just completed the biggest fight of his career, defeating former UFC champion Frank Shamrock to capture the Strikeforce belt.
He welcomes the chance to fight Le. "That would be perfect. Cung Le is a tough guy. He's a good fighter. He's got some stand-up skills. I would really look forward to fighting Cung Le, for sure."
If Santiago were to fight Le, he would look to take him where no one else has yet: the ground. "Yeah, if I fight him, for sure," he said. "I'm gonna choose the ground."
Before he plans a fight with Le, Santiago has a tough test ahead of him in Sasaki and he's not taking it for granted. "I'm really in my best shape," he commented. "I know I can do it. I'm really excited. I had a dream to fight in Japan. It's a dream come true. I'm so excited for this."
Santiago is well aware of the dangers his opponent possesses and does not take it for granted. "I think he's dangerous on his feet. He has a good jab and a right hand." However, he also believes he will have an advantage on the ground. "I've been training all of the positions, so when I see an opening, I'm going to finish."
Even though he wishes to fight back in Strikeforce at some point, Santiago has no problem fighting for Sengoku again either. "I still have three fights in one year. If they want me to fight in Sengoku III, I'm ready."
With the way Santiago has fared in his last couple of fights, he believes he can finish this fight like the rest of them. "It's not going to be by decision. I'm going to finish this fight as soon as I can, in the first round or the second round. It won't go to the third. I promise."